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Everyday bread: the spiritual writing of Soren Johnson

Panem quotidianum — it’s what we are always asking God to give us this day, “daily bread.” The English word quotidian comes from the same Latin adjective. It means mundane or everyday, and I tossed it down once in an earlier attempt to roll out these words. I ended up taking it back, but it suggested to me this title. “Everyday bread” characterizes well what I mean to commend in the writing of Soren Johnson, a Roman Catholic layman and father of five, whose reflections regularly offer discerning commentary on the Christian life in very graceful prose. He is a fine writer, and he is also my old friend.

I met Soren in the fall of 2000, when we both began graduate programs at the University of Notre Dame. We did all of our Greek homework together that year, which took us hours every day. Soren also became a Catholic, and I was his sponsor. But at the end of that year, he left Notre Dame to get married and begin life’s best adventure. I went to the wedding, and that was about it. In the fourteen years since, we traded some emails regretting it, but we had fallen out of touch. And then about a year ago, our fitful correspondence took root, and we began to exchange some things we’d written.

Soren is special assistant for media and evangelization to the Roman Catholic bishop of Arlington, Virginia. Since 2013, he has written a biweekly column for the diocesan newspaper, the Arlington Catholic Herald. Diocesan newspapers don’t usually account for much in my diet of literary or spiritual reading. In my experience they are mostly good for staying informed about what’s happening around the diocese and in the larger Church. The Arlington Catholic Herald does that well, but it also features some talented columnists. Along with some able journalism and the predictable miscellany of business new and old, Soren Johnson’s column sings. Often challenging and frequently beautiful, it offers cultured and seemingly artless meditations. But what I most admire about his writing is its refreshing concreteness.

Much popular theological writing seems stuck in a wide lens, permanently focused on bigger pictures and patterns. Individual pieces of reflection might be situated somewhere local and specific, in some actual exchange or happening, but those sites often turn out to be heuristic decisions as much as anything else. Only perches or footholds, they are places chosen to gain purchase or leverage on some larger drifts and themes. By contrast, Soren Johnson reflects on the humble burdens of discipleship in close relief. Mostly reflections on fatherhood and its many errands and chores, his column shines theological depth and artistic sensitivity on the mundane details of living. He writes about the workday commute, cleaning the gutters, and conversations with his kids. “All may of Thee partake,” observed George Herbert in the Elixir. Doing all things “for Thy sake” transforms our doings and “makes drudgery divine.” For me, reading Soren’s column is a helpful reminder of this insight and a remedy against forgetting it. Humble, needful tasks cannot be timeouts from the spiritual life but rather the material of its offering. If we don’t live “the Christian life” with our own real lives, how exactly will we ever hope to live it?

Caleb Congrove’s other posts may be found here. The featured image is from Pixabay, and is licensed under Creative Commons. 

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